+353 64 6632855 Killarney, Co. Kerry, Ireland

The Old Boathouse Trail

Length: 2.35 kms/1.5mi, allow 1.5 hours
Difficulty: Easy
Terrain: Mainly surfaced woodland paths but includes a flight of steps with hand rail.
Gear: Comfortable walking shoes/boots
When to go: All year round
Wheelchair Accessible: No
Family Friendly: Yes but there are high cliffs close to the trail and children need to be kept strictly to the paths.
Dog Friendly: Yes but dogs must be kept on a leash.
Stopping Points: Our trail follows the markers of National Park’s ‘Old Boathouse Nature Trail’
Nearest Services: At carpark and in restaurant at Muckross House.
Car Parking: There is free car parking at Muckross House. Check sign in carpark for closing time of entrance gates.
Ordnance Survey Map No: 78 & National Park Series

This is a very gentle walk through Muckross Gardens to down by the lake. Some beautiful scenery and the boathouse itself is lovely. I love it.
Trip Advisor

Disclaimer: Gems Publishing Ltd. do not accept responsibility for injury, loss or inconvenience caused while walking these trails. Common sense should prevail at all times.

old boathouse trail map

Before you Start

This is a relatively short walk but one you’re sure to enjoy. It has mythology, history, interesting flora and fauna, some geology and finishes with a stroll through the beautiful gardens of Muckross House. However, be warned that there are high cliffs close to the trail and children need to be kept strictly to the paths. Care is also needed on the flight of steps, although a hand rail is provided.

If you plan to do the tour of Muckross House and also the nearby Muckross Traditional Farms there is a joint ticket available. For those of you planning to visit Ross Castle in Killarney and other historical buildings that charge an entrance fee, a Heritage Card may save you some money.
Bain taitneamh as! Enjoy!

old boathouse trail map

Start – Muckross House

This fine Victorian Mansion was built by Henry Arthur Herbert in 1843. Among its guests were Queen Victoria of England and Irish poet William Butler Yeats. The Herberts met with financial difficulties and were forced to sell the house. They sold the house in 1899 to Lord Ardilaun of the Guinness family who in turn sold it on to the Bowers Bourn family of California in 1911. It is now open to the public.

kerry cattle

The ha-ha and Kerry Cattle

As you leave Muckross House and head towards the lake take a look at the recess between the field and the roadway. This is known as a ha-ha. The name “haha” got it’s name from the unexpected drop which you cannot see at a distance. These were used to prevent cattle entering the gardens, without ditches or walls obstructing the views from the house.

The all black pedigree cattle usually seen in the fields here are known as Kerry Cattle (Bó Chiarraí). These docile animals were once prized for their ability to adapt to the poor grazing and harsh weather on the Kerry uplands. They are a rare breed of dairy cattle, native to Ireland and believed to be one of the oldest breeds in Europe. They are probably descended from the Celtic Shorthorn, brought to Ireland as early as 2000 BC. By 1983 their were only around 200 pedigree Kerry cattle in the world but now there numbers have increased.

old boathouse trail map

Dúndag Bay

Here there is a fine view of Dúndag Bay. The Gaelic ‘Dúndag’ may translate as ‘the fort of Dagda’, a mythological hero or from ‘dún an daig’, the fort of the wood. Whatever the meaning, the name suggests that there was an Iron-Age (c. 500BC to 400 AD ) promontory fort here. Dundag Bay is part of Muckross Lake, at 65m, the deepest of Killarney’s three lakes.

monterey cypress cones killarney
Monterey Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) cones and leaves.

1. On the Trail

The beginning of our trail is marked by a magnificent Monterey Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa). A conifer from the Monterey Peninsula in California.

portugal laurel killarney
Portugal laurel (Prunus lusitanica).

2. The Boathouses

There are two boathouses here. One is termed a ‘dry boathouse’ and was used for storing boats. The other is a ‘wet boathouse’, a covered pier, where the boats are ready for immediate use.

As you head out along the Dundag Peninsula towards marker 3, notice the Portugal laurel (Prunus lusitanica) on your left. In late Spring it has white flowers, which turn to red-black cherry-like berries in the Autumn.

There are open-boat trips of Muckross Lake and boat trips to Dinis Cottage available from the boathouses. Tel. +353 87 278 9335 or +353 87 1200 420.

yew trees killarney national park
Left: Yew woodland. Right: Yew berries.

3. Yew Trees (Taxus baccata)

The Dundag Peninsula is composed mainly of limestone, a habitat ideally suited to yew woodland. Yew (Taxus baccata) are evergreen trees with needle-like leaves and red berry-like fruit called arils.

The importance of Yew
These trees were sacred to the Celts as a symbol of everlasting life, probably because they were evergreen and live for hundreds of years.

Yew wood was the preferred choice for longbows.

Muckross House has several fine pieces of furniture made from yew.

Reenadinna Wood on the Muckross/Dinis peninsula is one of three major yew woodlands in Europe.

mosses and ferns killarney national park

4. Mosses, Lichens & Ferns

The Gulf Stream gives the south west of Ireland a warm moist climate. That, along with the fact that here you have the cleanest air in Europe, coming in off 3,000 miles of Atlantic Ocean, giving Kerry and Killarney especially, a range of bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) and lichens that is unmatched anywhere in Europe.

souterrain killarney national park

The Souterrain

About 50m beyond marker 4, on the lake side, there is evidence of a fortification. Was this the site of the fort that gives the area it’s name? ‘Dún an Daig’, the fort of the wood. What remains is a souterrain (from French ‘sous terrain’, meaning ‘under ground’). These underground passageways were places of refuge during troubled times. They were also used to store food.

birds of killarney national park

Birds of the woodlands

Top left, clockwise: Coal Tit (Meantán Dubh); Wren (Dreoilín); Bullfinch (Corcrán Coille) and Goldcrest

5. Limestone Cliffs

Top left, clockwise: Coal Tit (Meantán Dubh); Wren (Dreoilín); Bullfinch (Corcrán Coille) and Goldcrest

dundag point killarney national park

6. View of Muckross Lake

This is Dundag Point and from here you have a fine view of the surrounding mountains and Muckross Lake. The mountains consist of Old Red Sandstone which was laid down during the Devonian period, 340-395 million years ago, a time when Ireland was part of a hot arid continent. The Old Red Sandstone was later covered with limestone during the Carboniferous period but, as mentioned earlier, it has been dissolved on the mountains and is now found mainly in the lowlands. From east to west the mountains are Mangerton, Torc, Eagle’s Nest, Purple and Shehy.

arbutus killarney national park

7. Arbutus Grove

Here we have one of Killarney’s most famous trees, the Arbutus (Arbutus unedo). Although a native of southwestern Europe where it grows as a shrub to about 3m, it thrives in Killarney, growing to heights of up to 10m. It is often referred to as the ‘strawberry tree’ because of its round red fruit. It’s unusual in that the fruit takes a year to ripen and can be seen on the tree at the same time as the flowers. Note also the red flaking bark which prohibits the growth of mosses and lichens.

In the early 1900s Arbutus was used in the making of furniture in the Gap of Dunloe in Killarney. Some fine examples of these can be seen at Muckross House. We now descend a flight of steps to marker No. 8.

erratic killarney national park

8. Glacial Evidence

As mentioned at No. 6 above, Old Red Sandstone was laid down before the limestone. However, if you look on top of the limestone here, on the left, you will see a rounded sandstone boulder, known as an erratic. This was deposited here by a glacier during the last Ice Age which ended about 10,000 years ago.

Notice here also how the yew trees wrap their roots around the limestone rocks.

golden killarney national park

scots pine killarney national parkScots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) Péine Albanach: Tree, cones and needles.

9. Goleen

This little beach is popular with locals and visitors during the summer months. This is Muckross Lake, one of Killarney’s three lakes. Fourteen species of fish have been found in the lakes. Apart from brown trout and salmon, there are two special species, Char, a fish usually found in sub-Arctic lakes and Killarney shad.

Along the shore here are the tall Scots Pine trees, identified by their orange-coloured bark and needles grouped in pairs. Pines died out in Ireland about 3,500 years ago. The specimens here have seeded from cones washed up from local plantations.

muckross gardens

10. The last stop

Here you see a good example of woodland regeneration. Growing around the large Scots pine are hollies and heathers, along with birch and oak saplings. On the right hand side of the path, Rhododendron ponticum infestation has smothered the ground flora. This invasive plant has long been a major problem in the National Park.

muckross gardens map

Muckross Gardens

After stop number 10 turn left and follow the signs for the gardens. Should you wish to visit Muckross House there are guided tours available. There is a restaurant and craft shop adjacent to the gardens. Muckross Traditional Farms are open to the public during the tourist season.


We hope you have enjoyed the walk and found the information here useful. As always, if you have any comments to make please contact us at info@kerrygems.com

Want to learn more?

For those wishing to learn more about the National Park, Killarney National Park Education Centre works with groups from all backgrounds, ages and abilities, including primary schools, post-primary schools, third level institutions, tour groups, youth groups. They also provide facilities and programmes for the general public and the corporate sector. The Centre is based at Knockreer House in Killarney.

See www.killarneynationalpark.ie/educentre.html

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